Rocking the Boat and Finding Yourself
Camp blew in with a whirlwind of crazy. Since it was my first time working there, I was surprised to find out that my pre-teen campers were full of attitude, had an impressive lexicon of profanity and were struggling spiritually with tefillah, not dissimilar to the rest of us. Each day brought new challenges. In addition to this, I spent countless hours watching girls practice their dances and songs and rehearsing their play in the sauna of a theater, all activities I loved, but as the counselor, needed to supervise instead of joining. My main activity of comfort was boating, but, have no fear, one of my campers figured out a way to still rock the boat, quite literally. She decided to wriggle in her canoe seat, so, for the entire ride, we sat in fear of capsizing. (I do have to admit, despite feigning annoyance, that that “roller coaster” was really fun.)
There were girls who walked off by themselves time after time forcing us to begrudgingly trail after them, even though we would have been just fine with not having to deal with them for a little while. All our attempts at words of discipline fell on deaf ears. No one can count the amount of times we made the trek to the infirmary for serious, urgent ailments, such as itchy bites, slightly sore throats, the smallest offset of a headache and imperceptibly injured ankles, with whiny girls in tow. We were in a constant scavenger hunt for water bottles and bags, which girls forgot more often than not. We had to haggle with them every day to do their basic chores so that the bunk would look like a slightly neater pigsty. You’d think that with everything we had to deal with, the girls would constantly be singing our praises, right? But … no. Not only was our hard work not so appreciated, but girls consistently complained. Any time a girl was upset, we, miraculously, were the root of the problem. Sometimes, with some campers, it seemed that the more I tried to become close with them, the harder they pushed me away. We were insulted right and left and were forced to bite back our retorts. Contrary to what many might think, pre-teen burns really sting, possibly even more than adult ones.
However, even with all this, I really loved camp. It was undeniably slightly crazy, but I also learned integral lessons about discipline, about being sweet, about assuming the best of people but still being able to put my foot down. In addition, I learned there are some quandaries that one never quite outgrows; a lot of the internal dilemmas my campers were going through, like questions of identity and figuring out who they each really are, I am still working through. I realized that it’s just an ongoing discussion one always needs to have with oneself. I also learned how to love people when it’s hard, and that it’s OK to get frustrated sometimes.
In addition, I learned something which I hope will help me as I begin Stern –– that even when someone is responsible for others, they still must look out for themselves and should not be embarrassed to seek support. Clearly, working at camp was not exactly a walk in the park. However, that did not in any way mean I was alone. I had my amazing co-counselor alongside me, and we held each other up as the other was falling down. I had my other counselor and staff friends, who were there to commiserate and lend a hand. The upper staff and camp mom were there to aid whenever I wished. Everyone was there for me, I just had to learn to ask.Asking for assistance was something difficult that I frequently encountered in Israel, when I felt more alone but at the same time realized I should be old enough and independent enough to deal with things by myself. However, I slowly started to learn that requesting help should not diminish one’s sense of capability –– in fact, it should do the opposite. It shows that you are brave and strong and willing to do anything to succeed, even if it means opening yourself up to others and thereby making yourself more vulnerable. The truth is, we really need each other. We just have to let other people in. This was hard for me to learn during my just-completed year in midrasha, where I only felt responsible for myself, but even harder and more crucial at camp. At camp, I was also responsible for others, so I felt I should at least be able to deal with my issues on my own. However, it dawned on me that if I wanted to be able to help my campers when they asked for help, I had to be able to ask for help myself, and that was nothing to be ashamed of. In conclusion, while I had an intense camp experience, I am so happy I had the opportunity to end up connecting with my campers and to learn about letting others in, a crucial life skill I hope I will be able to bring with me as I start Stern. I really hope that Stern will become a home for me, and that the people I meet there will become family, just like at camp. I got a lot out of my time in camp, and I hope that anyone reading this can glean just a little from my incredible summer experience too.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Photo Caption: A typical summer camp canoe